On “Falling Away”

Jesus Rescues Sheep

On “Falling Away”

James R. Aist

“I never knew you.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:23)

“Falling away” (and its variants) is a term found several times in the New Testament to denote the abandoning of one’s Christian faith and/or practice. It is routinely used as biblical evidence that a Christian may abandon his faith and forfeit his salvation. But, is the mention of falling away really evidence of such a spiritual disaster, or could it be an indication of something far less devastating or even a blessing?

To “rightly divide the word of God” on this matter, I believe that we must first understand that the apparent make-up of the “church” includes both those who are truly born again and those who only appear (to us) to be born again. This was true of the New Testament church as well: Jesus used the Parable of the Sower to teach that some who heard and received the Gospel would later “fall away” when persecution came (Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17). With this in mind, we can begin to understand why so many “churchgoers” today seem to be born again and on their way to heaven, only to, later on, deny Christ and forfeit their salvation? I believe that the Bible provides us the answer to this question, if we are willing and able to accept it.

Jesus said, “I know My sheep…” (John 10:27) and also “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil’” (Matthew 7:22-23). In other words, these churchgoers were not among His “sheep” (i.e., those whom the Father had given to Him), and so, He never knew them (i.e., they were not really born again). John declared a similar condition of the “antichrists” that left their fellowship when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. But they went out, revealing that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19). The writer of Hebrews also expresses this same understanding of the two categories of “churchgoers”: “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39).” He is speaking here of those among the churchgoers who have saving faith and persevere as opposed to those who do not have saving faith and draw back (i.e., fall away). Only those who are born again have saving faith and endure to the end. Finally, in His parable about the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus is talking about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In that parable, the King cast out of the wedding hall the “many” that came, but did not have on the proper wedding attire. Everyone, “both bad and good”, had been invited and brought to the wedding banquet, but these had not been “chosen.” Only the “few” who had been chosen were properly attired and allowed to stay and participate in the festivities. Once again, we see two categories of people – those who had been chosen (born again) and those who had not – all attending the same “church gathering.” Taken together, these passages all point to the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., the churchgoers) as being comprised of both truly saved, born-again believers and unsaved, non-believers who are not born again though they may appear to be. We cannot know, with certainty, the one from the other unless they “fall away.” Then we can know for sure that they were not truly one of us and that they were not really born again, because, if they had been, then they would not have left us (1 John 2:19). Thus, those who only appear to be born again will seem to fall away and, thereby, they will appear to have forfeited their salvation. However, people cannot forfeit what they never really had, can they?

There is another scenario in which one may appear to have “fallen away” when, in fact they may not have. (This is an important distinction that merits our serious consideration.) This scenario is what we usually refer to these days as “backsliding.” When a truly born-again Christian stops attending church and begins to live as though he is not a believer, we may say that he has “backslidden”, because of the blatant disobedience to God that has become evident in his life style. And we would be accurate in saying that. But a backslidden person has not necessarily also denied Christ in his heart and thus revoked his salvation. Perhaps he has become, just for a season, a “carnal Christian,” and will soon begin living like a believer once again, having never denied Christ in his heart. Such a person would be like the one sheep who went astray out of 100 in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-6); this one sheep still belonged to the man, even while he was astray for a while. Furthermore, we must not forget that even born-again believers still sin, and God has given us the remedy: confession with repentance (1 John 1:8-10).

Finally, there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away”, and many people have taken them to imply that a born-again believer may, in fact, reject and abandon his saving faith and lose his salvation. At first glance, there may seem to be no other way to explain why such warnings appear in the New Testament.  But, in my view, those who reach such a conclusion are asking the wrong question. I doubt that anyone denies that the one who perseveres in the faith to “the end” will be saved.  The telling question, however, is “Who keeps him in the faith to the end, the saved person or the God who saved him? When one takes into account what the Bible teaches about how God draws unbelievers to Jesus to save them in the first place (John 6:44), a more biblically consistent and entirely plausible explanation then comes to light. As we know, God uses the preaching and teaching of the Gospel (including both the “bad news” about the wages of sin being an eternity of torment in hell and the “good news” about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ) to bring unbelievers to saving faith (Romans 10:14-15). That being so, why, then, would He not use similar preaching and teaching as helps to preserve their saving faith “to the end”? I submit that it should, therefore, come as no surprise that there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away.” In fact, I would be surprised if the New Testament did not include such warnings.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE.)

Vermont and Back

Vermont and Back

By Angie Brown, Guest Author

One of the places I wanted most to visit some day was the State of Vermont. The opportunity came when my daughter, Janet, and her family moved there. I traveled with her to Bennington to spend a few days. My daughter’s home was near a ski area in the mountains. From there we drove to a high peak, and there we were shown a breathtaking panoramic view which included three contiguous states.

Vermont is pleasing to the eye with its neatness. Streams and numerous small waterfalls flow over a base of white rock wherever you look. White homes and churches nestled in the green-clad mountains present a serene beauty. Life appeared to be slower there, a pace not driven by the fast mania of many other places. In the autumn, the tree colors are vivid, but different from our own in western New York State. The tourists who travel to observe this beauty are called “leaf peekers.” Any people who have retired to Vermont have found successful small businesses there, after wondering how they would stay occupied.

Janet took me to various parts of the state. Vermont is famous for its large homes, some built when the country was first being settled. They were amazingly well kept and in good repair. We saw large farms, endless green fields, and hills with cattle grazing. Some of the larger homes seemed like two homes built together, or a house with a large barn attached. I understand that this was done because of the severe winter weather. In this way, they could go through from one building into the other to stay more comfortable without going outside.

In Manchester, we stopped at a shop that carried only dolls and doll houses of every kind imaginable. Then we drove across an odd-appearing country bridge with artfully designed rails, to the community library. There a small corner nook caught my eye. It contained a large window with a view overlooking a small waterfall and comfortable chairs to sit in and read while listening to the cheerful sounds of the babbling brook. Next was a stop at a clock store. Upon entering, we were bombarded with the ticking of clocks that lined the walls of the store. What an amazing scene – so interesting. The attendant told us that every morning he went through the store winding each one, an all-morning duty.

All too soon the visit came to an end. Janet drove me to the bus terminal where I boarded the bus for home. After a 10-hour trip, I was still exhilarated, but so glad to set my luggage down inside the front door of my own home.

(For more short stories by ANGIE, click HERE)

Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

BonnieDéjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

James R. Aist

If you have cats, you know that they are consummate creatures of habit. And it is often said that they usually forget things after a few weeks. Well, this true story may well be proof positive of those two kitty characteristics.

It all happened on Snyder Hill, just a little southeast of Ithaca, in upstate New York, about 15 years ago. We had two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, but we had to let Clyde “go” because he became mean and unruly. That left just Bonnie, whose personality blossomed after Clyde’s departure, especially her assertiveness. And it was a good thing, too.

One hot summer evening (yes, it does occasionally get hot in upstate New York, believe it or not), Bonnie and I were in the living room when we heard a neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was approaching the living room window, which was open, with only the window screen between us and him. So, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats in like manner. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. Suddenly, Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the screen. I knew that something violent was about to come down, so I summoned my wife, Janet, to come quickly, so she wouldn’t miss out on the ensuing encounter.

Just as Janet entered the room, the intruder leapt onto the screen with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the screen in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a few moments, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between challenger and defender. Then, realizing that there was no way that he was going to get at Bonnie with the screen separating the two of them, the would-be intruder gingerly relinquished his grip on the screen, dropped to the ground…kerplunk, and slinked away into the night. Convinced that she had won the day, Bonnie then abandoned the screen and returned to her place in the living room, as proud as a peacock. And we, too, were quite impressed and proud of our vicious little attack cat.

But, that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Fast forward a few months. It’s now Fall, the nights are cold, the screen was up and the glass sash was in its lowered position. The evening began innocently enough, but we were in for some exceptional entertainment. Bonnie and I were, once again, in the living room when we heard the same neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was, once again, approaching the living room window, which was now closed, with only the window glass between us and him. So, again, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. By this time, I was already saying to myself, “No-no-no, surely he wouldn’t, not with the glass in place now. I don’t know if I can survive the intensity of the ensuing laughter if he were to do that again.” But, just in case, I beckoned Janet into the living room once again, so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun. Anticipating what might be coming, we were already about to burst out in laughter when, low and behold, it happened.

Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the glass. As anticipated, the would-be intruder leapt onto the glass with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the glass in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a split second, but that pose didn’t last long. Like Wiley Coyote who, chasing feverishly after the Road Runner, failed to make the turn just before the cliff and was briefly suspended in mid-air before crashing to the ground…kuh-thump, so, too, these valiant feline warriors seemed suspended in time for a brief moment before the reality of gravity set in, and, bug-eyed and terrified, they came crashing (more precisely, sliding rapidly) down. At this point we were so consumed by uncontrollable laughter that we had zero concern for Bonnie’s well being following her fall. But, not to worry, we finally regained our composure to find that the couch was soft and had afforded her a perfect landing place. I can’t say that the other cat fared as well, though.

And that was the last we heard from this unwelcome, wannabe intruder. I guess his memory must have lasted more than a few weeks that time!

(For more True Tales on my website, click HERE)